Getting pulled over is never fun, but cooperating with law enforcement officers can make the process easier and safer for both you and the officer. Follow these tips to practice safety during a traffic stop.
- Stay calm: Easier said than done, but getting rattled and stressed out about being pulled over helps no one. Take a deep breath and remember that a traffic citation is not really a big deal. You may be able to have it dismissed with defensive driving and quickly move on (with a better education in safe driving, too).
- Pull over as quickly as possible: As soon as you realize you’re being pulled over, you need to get to the side of the road. Of course, that doesn’t mean you should stop just anywhere. Look for a place that is ideally out of the flow of traffic, such as a parking lot or a side street rather than a major road. You will be safer if you’re stopped away from the flow of traffic and you’ll keep the officer safer, too, as they won’t have to stand in traffic to reach your window. Use your blinker to indicate you’re moving over so that the officer knows you’ve acknowledged them and are preparing to stop.
- Turn off your car and put your hands on your steering wheel: Turning off your car and keeping your hands in view offers reassurance for the police officer. Turning off your car tells them you’re not planning to drive off in the middle of the stop. And placing your hands on the steering wheel keeps them in plain view so they don’t have to wonder if you’re reaching for a weapon.
- Wait to retrieve documents: You may be anxious to get your license, registration, and insurance ready for the police officer to review, but just wait. Rummaging around in your vehicle to get these documents seems innocent, and it probably is. But from behind, there is no way for a police officer to know if you’re digging around for your license or doing something else not so innocent, such as retrieving a weapon from your glove box or hiding alcohol or drugs before they reach your window. Wait until they get to your car and ask you for your documents, then tell them what you’re doing and where you’re reaching as you look for them.
- Don’t make sudden movements or reach out to a police officer: Sudden moves can make a police officer nervous, and rightly so, as you could be reaching for anything or even preparing to get out of your car. Avoid moving suddenly and always try to keep your hands in view. Never reach out to touch an officer, their equipment, or even a police dog, as this is a threat to the officer’s safety. And you should never get out of your vehicle unless asked to do so.
- Avoid arguing about the ticket: Save your argument for the courtroom. The officer is there to issue a citation, and they will issue it whether you agree with it or not. If you want to fight the ticket, you should take it up with a judge, not the officer.
- Call for help if you’re not sure: Some law enforcement vehicles don’t look like traditional patrol vehicles. And there are criminals who impersonate police officers to pull over drivers. While this is rare, it can be a dangerous situation. If you’re being pulled over by a vehicle you’re not sure about, turn on your warning lights and call 911 to verify that you’re being pulled over by a legitimate law enforcement officer.